Legislature sticking it to their constituents
July 26, 2005
This is a day of shame and disgrace for Pennsylvanians who cling to the quaint, but demonstrably-mistaken notion that government will be of the people, by the people and for the people.
Drunk with power and possessing a wildly exaggerated perspective of their importance, the lords and ladies of our State Legislature, prominently featuring Greene/Washington/Fayette County's own Representative William DeWeese, and with the governor as their accomplice, have decreed themselves worthy of a massive pay increase of 16 percent which will propel salaries of rank-and-file members to in excess of $81,000 and leaders' wages well into six-figures.
Our “esteemed public servants” were not satisfied to enjoy what were already among the highest legislative salaries in the nation, automatic cost-of-living increases, and lavish perks unknown to those who do not occupy exalted positions in government, including a $650 monthly automobile allowance, mileage reimbursement for their state-paid vehicles, and $129 per diem reimbursement for expenses on any of the few days that the Legislature is in session, for which no documentation is required.
The law provides that the Legislature may not vote itself a pay raise, so an insidious action is being taken which satisfies the members' greed immediately: providing the higher wage now, but terming it an expense account increase until the next Legislative session begins: shameful.
The pay grab is a particular affront to Pennsylvania state employees, who were told at the time of the most recent contract negotiations that concessions would be necessary. State employee unions agreed to an unprecedented two-year wage freeze and sharp reductions in benefits, including dramatic increases in co-payments for physician visits, prescriptions, and a first-ever co-payment for health insurance.
The timing of the pay grab is also atrocious, coming on the heels of a massive 10 percent increase in the state income tax last year, and amidst the legislature's failure and/or unwillingness to provide the property tax relief which has been studied for decades, and which was promised by Governor Rendell as the most prominent and important plank in his platform as he ran for election in 2002.
I recall no tenet from the Founding Fathers which sought to create a class of lifelong officeholders who would gorge at the public trough, becoming wealthy at the expense of the citizenry, yet this is what has developed in many jurisdictions, glaringly so in Pennsylvania State Government. Instead of seeking the means to increase their salaries, legislators should be acting to decrease the size and vast expense of the body, one of the most costly and large such entities in the nation.
Having recently celebrated Independence Day, Americans have a particularly keen recognition of what can occur when government goes so far beyond its bounds as to alienate and enrage the citizenry. How will Pennsylvanians address the latest act of arrogance and tyranny, the Legislature sticking its thumb in the eyes of its constituents?
The members of the Legislature and the Governor clearly are relying on Pennsylvanians being willing to forgive and forget, to have short memories of their lack of ethics. Is it possible that we will hold the greedy and shameless elected officials responsible for their actions, that all incumbents would face significant opposition from responsible candidates who are responsive and accountable to the people, and those who voted for the pay grab were turned out of office for their failure to represent us?
Oren M. Spiegler
Upper Saint Clair